Seven months of continual drought and heavy water use have reduced Lake Waco to less than 80% of its normal capacity, putting the city of Waco close to enacting water restrictions.
The lake level stood Monday at about 457 feet above mean sea level, 5 feet down from its usual elevation of 462 feet.
At 455 feet, the city of Waco will begin limiting its own water use and monitoring for excessive watering. Monthly reports from the city of Waco show that water use from November through March was at a four-year high for that period.
“Based on what we do know, it’s a fairly safe bet that it’s most likely due to increased irrigation,” said Jonathan Echols, city of Waco water utilities spokesman. “As the weather continues to warm, outdoor irrigation will continue to increase.”
He said the city plans to promote water conservation in the coming months in an effort to prevent mandatory restrictions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the region will receive 40% to 50% less rainfall than usual through June.
The city of Waco uses between 28 million and 30 million gallons per day on average. Based on data from previous years, Echols said water usage typically increases from May to August and falls again in September.
He said in 2011 the city asked Waco residents to voluntarily conserve water, but mandatory restrictions were never enacted. The water utility’s five biggest customers, in order, are Refresco, the city of Woodway, Cameron Park Zoo, Baylor University and Pilgrim’s Pride Industries.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the county is in a severe drought, which is characterized by risk of wildfires, poor conditions for agriculture and wildlife moving into populated areas. Western McLennan County is facing more extreme drought conditions that pose a bigger problem for agricultural operations, plants and wildlife.
Daniel Huckaby, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office, said the drought that began last fall will continue into summer, but might change course during the following colder months.
He said so far, the drought is mostly impacting the agricultural sector.
“It takes a while for the water resources to really take a hit,” Huckaby said.
After a wet start to 2021, conditions began drying up in September, Huckaby said. After 3.8 inches of rain in October all of the new plant growth from spring and summer dried up and became ideal kindling for fires.
Over the last four months, McLennan County has gotten 3.3 inches of precipitation, a fraction of the 9.5 inches the NWS would normally expect for that period. Over the last seven months, Waco has seen a rainfall deficit of 13 inches.
This spring is forecast to be drier than usual in McLennan County. Huckaby said even if it weren’t, it would take an average of one inch of rain per week to emerge from the drought before summer.
“We would have to make up a good bit of it to refill stock tanks and get that deep soil moisture,” Huckaby said. “We would need a considerable amount of rain. Even if we’re normal, drought is likely to persist in summer.”
He said the region’s best chance to catch some rain was last week, but storms passed Waco by with only a trace of rain. The National Weather Service predicts 40% chance of thunderstorms from Tuesday and a slight chance of rain Wednesday and Thursday, with the possibility of large hail and damaging winds.
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